Most dentists will tell you that you absolutely must floss every day, but very few Americans actually follow through with this. According US News, only “30 percent of the population…floss daily,” and, even worse, “slightly over 32 percent say they never floss.” Houston, TX Dentist, Dr. Craig Armstrong and our team also recommend flossing, of course. However, rather than scolding our patients about not flossing, we try to suggest why it is actually important. Many people don’t floss because they don’t understand how it works or what its true purpose is. In the following blog, we describe what flossing actually does. Armed with this information (and floss!), you can keep up with your oral hygiene regimen.
Dental Nooks and Crannies
Does your toothbrush cover every portion of your tooth? What many people don’t realize is that the areas between your teeth and up into the gums are some of the most vulnerable to disease. It’s a simple matter of surface area—floss is the only way to reach certain regions of your teeth and gums. As Live Science reports: “there are five surfaces on each tooth, including three that a brush can clean (the front, back and top or bottom of the tooth), and two that require flossing to clean (the sides of the tooth, that are adjacent to other teeth). Flossing cleans up your dental nooks and crannies, so to speak. After all, food, particulate matter, and bacteria may be more likely to get lodged in these areas.
No one wants to deal with decay. Cavities are caused by plaque, a sticky film that develops over tooth enamel, providing sugar to bacteria that erode enamel. While brushing is key to help you clean off three out of five tooth surfaces, you need floss to remove plaque from the other two. As Dental Picture Show explains: “a location that’s particularly vulnerable to cavity formation is the point of contact between teeth…Fortunately, almost any flossing technique, even the most haphazard, tends to clean this region.” You can help preserve your enamel and avoid dental fillings simply by flossing.
Ward Off Gum Disease
Perhaps even more than cavities, flossing is a safeguard against periodontal disease. The same plaque that can cause cavities also includes toxins that can break down your gingival tissue and, in more advanced cases, even cause tooth loss. Flossing cleans between your teeth, removing plaque and debris from your gum tissue. You might think that flossing isn’t good for your gums because they bleed when you do so. In fact, according to Colgate Oral Care Center “gums that bleed during brushing or flossing” are a sign that you’re already suffering from gum disease (or, perhaps that you’re flossing too hard).
Sadly, gum disease is incredibly common in the United States. According to the American Academy of Periodontology’s report on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, “one out of every two American adults aged 30 and over has periodontal disease…47.2 percent, or 64.7 million American adults, have mild, moderate, or severe periodontits, the more advanced form of periodontal disease. In adults 65 and older, prevalence rates increase to 70.1 percent.” These statistics indicate that gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease, may be even more widespread.
If your gums bleed when you floss, contact our practice so we can help you treat your condition before it worsens.
Scientific Studies on Flossing
We’ve explained the general logic for flossing above, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Dental experts have studied this oral hygiene technique extensively. Here’s what they found:
Dentists should promote flossing to their patients. The authors of a 2017 study in the journal, Oral Health & Preventive Dentistry concluded: “the use of dental floss should never be discouraged. Healthy habits acquired in childhood continue through adult life, with numerous oral- and general-health benefits.”
When used as part of a good oral hygiene routine, flossing can help heal gum disease. A 2018 piece published in The Journal of Clinical Dentistry described “a single-center, randomized, controlled, examiner-blind, two-treatment, eight-week parallel group study in adults with at least 20 gingival bleeding sites.” Working with “one hundred and twenty subjects,” the scientists found that “over an eight-week period, an oral hygiene routine with an oscillating-rotating electric toothbrush, stannous flouride dentrifice [a cleaning powder or paste], and floss significantly improved gingivitis compared to regular hygiene with a manual toothbrush and an anti-cavity sodium flouride dentrifice.” Flossing is a key component of an effective dental hygiene regimen.
It’s more effective to build up patients’ practical flossing self-esteem than it is to criticize or scare them. As per an article in Patient Education and Counseling, “dental professionals should encourage patients’ self-confidence to brush and floss at recommended levels and discuss strategies that combat barriers to performance, rather than emphasizing the risks of inaction or the benefits of oral self-care.” Patients should know all the tips and tricks for flossing properly.
As you can see for yourself, flossing is an essential, helpful oral hygiene habit that dentists ought to teach in simple, easy steps. Dr. Armstrong and our team completely agree with these findings, which is why we’ve included an exact flossing procedure for you to follow below.
Now that you understand what flossing does for your mouth, how should you actually go about doing it? We recommend flossing at least once per day (and brushing at least twice). While any sort of flossing is bound to improve your oral health, there are specific techniques you should use. The American Dental Association offers “5 Steps to a Flawless Floss”:
1. “Break off about 18 inches of floss” and wind it around one finger on each hand.
2. “Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.”
3. “Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap the floss into the gums.” In fact, flossing too hard could be damaging.
4. “When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.” This is the careful motion that allows you to remove plaque that can become trapped between the tooth and the gum.
5. “Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up and down motions.” This cleans potentially harmful material from between the teeth, where cavities can form.
Following this guide to clean up every tooth can help you enjoy a healthy smile.
If You’ve Failed to Floss
Now that you understand what floss actually does, we hope you’re more motivated to do your daily flossing, but what if you haven’t always been the most fastidious flosser? Never fear – Dr. Armstrong and our team are here to assist you.
If your teeth don’t look or feel as clean as they should due to a lack of flossing, or if it’s simply been more than six months since you’ve last see us, we advise you to come in for a dental exam and professional cleaning. During this visit, we’ll remove plaque from your teeth and show you how to floss better.
Dr. Armstrong can also remove decay and place dental fillings if improper oral hygiene has led to cavities. We offer both amalgam and composite fillings, so you can choose the restoration that works best for you.
If you suffer from gingivitis, we’ve got good news: this condition is reversible. We can help you take better care of your gums so they can heal. However if, like many Americans, your gum disease has progressed to periodontitis, we may need to perform more intensive treatments or refer you to a specialist.
Regardless of the flossing-related issues you’re struggling with, Dr. Armstrong and our team can help!
Contact Our Houston Dental Practice Today
Do you have more questions about flossing? Would you like to improve your oral health? Contact us today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Armstrong.